The Carroll County Board of Education reviewed Gov. Wes Moore’s supplemental budget and discussed financial issues raised by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
The budget had some surprises, including an additional $1.5 million in unrestricted funds for fiscal 2024, changes in funding restrictions that are likely to make fiscal 2025 even more costly and more than $270,000 of additional funds available to Crossroads Middle School because it was designated as a concentration of poverty school.
“We’re in dire circumstances here,” Superintendent Cynthia McCabe said, “so everything that we have to pay for we are going through with a fine tooth comb to make sure that we’re not paying for anything that we don’t need, so that we can try to afford Blueprint.”
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is education reform set to inject billions into the state’s public schools. Enacted in 2020, the plan is designed to reform Maryland’s early childhood, elementary and secondary schools so every student — regardless of geography, household income, race, ethnicity, gender, language spoken at home, special needs or other characteristics — will graduate and be ready to enter the workforce or higher education.
While an additional $1.5 million in unrestricted funding is helpful, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jonathan O’Neal said the school system has already made a request for a $6.7 million funding increase over fiscal 2023 to the Board of County Commissioners, and that request will remain unchanged. However, county commissioners might take into account the extra $1.5 million when deciding if and how much of the request for sustained funding to grant.
“It’s significant,” O’Neal said. “It’s the one part of the state formula that’s less restricted, so it gives the board flexibility to use that money for things on the list of priorities.”
It is not clear why Carroll County is receiving more money from the state than previously anticipated, O’Neal said.
With regard to the additional funds for Crossroads Middle, the school board will consider not accepting the money.
Crossroads is an alternative school, designed to serve transitioning students but not to serve as a home school to any.
O’Neal said the school was designated a concentration of poverty by a slim margin based a snapshot of the students who happened to attend the school on Oct. 31 of last year.
“We don’t want to deny services that we can provide,” O’Neal said, “but we also don’t want to provide services and pull services back and put our school or students in that situation either, so that is what we’re trying to sort out here.”
The Blueprint’s intended outcome for a designated concentration of poverty school is that it become a community school, which prompts the hiring of a coordinator to perform a needs assessment so the school can offer more services to students and their families.
O’Neal said it could be detrimental to build wraparound services and hire additional staff if that funding is discontinued.
The language of Blueprint does not anticipate a school teetering on the edge of concentration of poverty designation, O’Neal said, and the population of an alternative school is especially volatile.
It might be possible to provide the school with funds from one of Blueprint’s restricted budget categories, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Nicholas Shockney said. McCabe said she will thoroughly consider all options before making a decision regarding Crossroads Middle School.
The update from the state also indicated other programs areas set to be treated as restricted and changed the compliance requirements for fiscal 2025, according to the budget update presented at the meeting.
The Blueprint is intended to have a 10-year implementation, and although there are countless unknowns ahead of fiscal 2025, a mandated systemic change that would allow teachers more time to plan comes with a big price tag, O’Neal said.
Coupled with Blueprint setting the minimum teacher salary at $60,000 by fiscal 2027, McCabe said it is likely that the school system will ask the county for around a $38 million increase in sustained funding next year, on top of this year’s request for a budget that is $13.4 million higher than that of fiscal 2023.
Another solution would cut more than 200 teacher positions, about six per school, and transfer around 400 teachers from one school to another. McCabe said these solutions are not ideal because they would increase class sizes, potentially tripling from current class sizes of around 25-30 students per class to as many as 50-75 in one class.
“We are starting to look at fire code as our guide for how many students per teacher,” McCabe said, “and certainly we never thought we would get to the point where safety and fire code was dictating our instructional pedagogue.”
Carroll County Board of Education President Marsha Herbert did not mince words when requesting additional help from the state in addressing what has been called an untenable situation.
“We need something more than just guidelines on a piece of paper,” Herbert said. “Someone needs to come here and help us. This is not a dictatorship from the Maryland State Department of Education, we are all supposed to be in this together, so we do need help.”
The school board also voted unanimously to amend its capital budget request for fiscal 2024 to make the most of a state budget with construction money to spare.
The amended request asks for money now that the school system was planning to request from the state for fiscal year 2025, including more than $1 million for ongoing funding at Carroll County Career & Tech Center and more than $266,000 for East Middle School construction.